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Border lines in the sand

The developing situation in Pakistan calls for a scrutiny of incidents along the LoC, writes Vinod Sharma.

india Updated: Jan 15, 2013 22:56 IST
Vinod Sharma

There’s a lot happening in Pakistan: the country is in election mode; the army has revised its India-specific security doctrine to declare domestic terror a bigger danger; a religious preacher of Canadian nationality has dislodged Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Pakistan as a major challenger to the established political order. So the crowded Pakistani mind space had little room for the flare-up that left two soldiers dead on either side of the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. Pakistan was ripple-free on the issue that caused a storm in India.

A Track 2 conference I attended in Lahore on January 8 was addressed by the senior leadership of the country: Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, former Premier Nawaz Sharif and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif. There wasn’t even a passing reference in their speeches to the casualties along the LoC where the ceasefire had broadly held since 2003.

Nevertheless, it was hard to de-link the subversion of robust Indo-Pak military-to-military confidence-building measures from the chaos that’s consuming Pakistan. Was the LoC reignited to internationalise the Kashmir dispute, derail elections due later this year or weaken the anti-terror offensive on Pakistan’s western borders with Afghanistan?

The ‘paradigm shift’ in the army’s approach is predicated on internal security threats from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other violent groups with ethnic, sectarian and sub-nationalist motivations. There was proof of that in the January 10 Quetta bombings that left over 80 dead.

The army’s revised approach was revealed in the Pakistani media a few days before the armed face-off on the LoC. The assault triggered outrage in India; reports of mutilated bodies of two jawans, one of whom was beheaded, impairing the forever shrinking constituency for peace with Pakistan. The sentiment favouring a tough Indian response brought the Congress and the BJP onto the same page.

Mauling bodies is against all canons of soldiery. Professionally trained armies are geared to fight, not defile adversaries. But extremists have no such compunction. They are gruesome by design.

The incident in which the raiders took away the soldier’s head was a miniature Kargil — the Pakistan army’s joint misadventure with elements trained for a protracted proxy war in J&K.

The point to be probed is whether the beheading was the work of regular Pakistani troops or rogues within the army acting in cahoots with killer squads sheltered across the LoC or operating out of Afghanistan and southern Punjab. Neither possibility is far-fetched.

Why? Sections in the Pakistan army’s middle-rung are against fighting the Afghan war at Washington’s bidding. They’re opposed to troop withdrawal from the eastern border with India for deployment on the west with Afghanistan where a plethora of terror outfits are ensconced in the tribal areas. An inflamed LoC suits hardliners in the army and militants keen on crippling the anti-terror thrust on the Af-Pak border.

The TTP that abhors democracy and advocates Islamic Sharia had threatened to send ‘fighters’ to J&K to counter the army’s internal threat theory. The ideological argument: extension of the struggle for Sharia to Kashmir “where the Pak-sponsored jihad hasn’t yielded results.”

Tactically, they want to stall troop movement to the west in pursuance of the internal security threat the army has front-loaded in its revised doctrine. Renewed border tensions with India will pin the troops down in the east, complicating Pakistan’s internal security beyond redemption.

An immediate casualty of that could be the general elections due in the first half of 2013. The process is under threat from Pakistan’s own version of Anna Hazare — a bearded preacher named Tahirul Qadri. His siege of Islamabad against the established political order has drawn people out in thousands to protest against rampant corruption, unemployment and lack of basic services. His movement got a boost with the Supreme Court ordering the arrest of the PM on graft charges.

Established parties such as the PPP and the PML-Nawaz rubbish Qadri as a pawn in the hands of forces bent upon derailing elections or manipulating results. The allusion is to the army and some foreign players. Qadri is a Canadian passport holder and his frontline supporter, the MQM’s Altaf Hussain a British national. A partner in the PPP-led coalition, the MQM is attracted by Qadri’s burgeoning middle-class base that once rooted for Imran Khan.

The developing situation calls for an honest scrutiny of incidents along the LoC. But the Pakistani proposal for a probe by the United Nations Military Observers’ Group for India and Pakistan was a bit cunning, going as it did against the spirit of the Simla Pact. India hasn’t recognied UNMOGIP after the 1971 war when the LoC was bilaterally negotiated. Ditto for the 2003 promise of ceasefire along the line.